Erskine, who threw 2 no-nos and fought for human rights, dies at 97

April 16th, 2024

Carl Erskine, who pitched in five World Series for the Brooklyn Dodgers, passed away at Anderson Community Hospital in his hometown of Anderson, Ind., early Tuesday morning. He was 97.

Over his 12-year career, spent entirely with the Dodgers, Erskine went 122-78 with a 4.00 ERA, earning an All-Star nod in 1954 and helping the Brooklyn Dodgers win the World Series in '55. During his career, Erskine threw a pair of no-hitters and delivered an iconic and then-record 14-strikeout complete-game performance in Game 3 of the '53 World Series against the Yankees.

"Carl Erskine was an exemplary Dodger," said Dodgers president and CEO Stan Kasten. "He was as much a hero off the field as he was on the field – which given the brilliance of his pitching is saying quite a lot. His support of the Special Olympics and related causes, inspired by his son Jimmy – who led a life beyond all expectations when he was born with Down Syndrome, cemented his legacy. We celebrate the life of 'Oisk' as we extend our sympathies to his wife, Betty, and their family."

Carl Daniel Erskine was born on Dec. 13, 1926, in Anderson. His father, Matt, taught him to throw the curveball for which he would be known during his career, according to his SABR biography. After becoming one of the most decorated pitchers in Indiana, Erskine and the Dodgers had mutual interest, but the two sides couldn't come to a deal with Erskine serving in the Navy during World War II. Once the war ended, Erskine signed with the Dodgers at the age of 19.

Erskine was called up by the Dodgers three years after signing, and when he arrived in their clubhouse, his stall was next to Jackie Robinson's. The two quickly developed a friendship. Given Erskine's upbringing and his desire for racial equality, he never hesitated to support Robinson, who battled bitter racism and social injustices after breaking the game's color barrier in 1947.

Two years ago, Erskine shared a story with the Los Angeles Times about one particularly powerful interaction with Robinson during their early days as teammates.

"In Brooklyn, I came out of the clubhouse one day, and there was an area where wives and family members could wait. When I came out of the clubhouse, Rachel and little Jackie [Robinson's son] were there. I just walked over, the natural thing to do, and talked with them for a few minutes. The next day, Jackie said he wanted to thank me for what I did. I said, 'I didn't pitch yesterday.' He said, 'No, you walked over to talk, out in front of the crowd, to talk with Jackie and Rachel.' I was almost embarrassed. I said, 'Jackie, don't thank me for that. Shake my hand for a well-pitched game.' That was a natural thing for me to do. But he was impressed by that.

"I had a lot of good buddies growing up, Black kids in my neighborhood, and I never had any problem at all with that. Jackie asked me one day, 'How come you don't have any problem with this black and white thing?' I said, 'My best friend growing up, from 10 years old on, was Johnny Wilson, a Black young man in my neighborhood. So that never was an issue with me, and it never will be.'"

An integral part of several pennant-winning Dodgers teams in the 1940s and '50s, Erskine was the last living player who was part of the famed "Boys of Summer," chronicled in Roger Kahn's revered 1972 book. But he wanted to be remembered as much more than a baseball player. Erskine dedicated his life to fighting for human rights, especially serving as an important voice for educational opportunities and for the Special Olympics.

That passion for Erskine grew once his son, Jimmy, was born with Down Syndrome. Jimmy was given a short life expectancy, but would go on to live until 2023, dying at the age of 63.

In recognition of his humanitarian efforts, which included fighting for human rights, racial equality and his fierce fight for the special-needs community, Erskine was honored by the Hall of Fame with the 2023 Buck O'Neil Lifetime Achievement Award, presented to an individual "for their extraordinary efforts to enhance baseball's positive impact on society."